Trump dissolves business councils following mass resignations over his press conference

The pace accelerated after the president defended the white nationalist protest in Charlottesville.

Donald Trump and manufacturing CEOs
Donald Trump gathers with manufacturing CEOs in February 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Three CEOs announced on Monday that they would step down from the Trump administration’s Manufacturing Council, amid the uproar over the president’s mishandling of the response to the weekend’s white nationalist attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia. A fourth member of the council resigned on Tuesday and several more on Wednesday, after Trump unexpectedly announced he would dissolve the council entirely. Six CEOs had initially told ThinkProgress they would stay put and continue to serve in their advisory role in the Trump administration.

Merck CEO Kenneth Frazer, the only black member of Trump’s manufacturing council, according to the most recent list, was the first  to resign on Monday, citing a “responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism.” Though Trump quickly took to Twitter to repeatedly attack Frazer and Merck, Under Armour’s Kevin Planck and Intel’s Brian Krzanich soon also announced their departures.

Trump responded Tuesday morning by tweeting that the people he appointed and have resigned are “grandstanders.” He claimed that he has “many’ other CEOs who are available to replace them.

Just 16 minutes later, Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance of American Manufacturing tweeted his own resignation, calling it “the right thing for me to do.”

On Tuesday evening, after Trump redoubled his weak response with a stronger overt defense of the white nationalist rally, both AFL-CIO representatives on the council, Richard Trumka and Thea Lee, announced they would also leave the council. Their statement said “we cannot sit on a council for a President who tolerates bigotry and domestic terrorism.” And on Wednesday, Inge Thulin, the chairman, CEO, and president of 3M, also said he would leave the council. An hour later, Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison announced she was resigning as well, “following yesterday’s remarks from the President.”

Amid this parade of resignations, Trump announced that he would end both the manufacturing council and another business council to avoid “putting pressure” on the members.

Within minutes, both Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky and United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes announced they would resign — indicating that the decisions had been made before Trump said he would dissolve the council.GE Chairman Jeff Immelt also put out a statement Wednesday, say he had resigned in the wake of the president’s “deeply troubling” remarks.

But while many on the council headed for the exits, at least one member stood firm.  In a statement emailed to her staff on Wednesday morning (and obtained by ThinkProgress), Marillyn A. Hewson, the chairman, president and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, announced that she had decided to remain on the council because its mission “remains critical to our business and the United States” and that having “a seat at the table” is “the best way to represent our company and our employees.” Hewson also noted that racism would not be tolerated at Lockheed Martin, where the “core values” are “to do what’s right.”

On Monday, ThinkProgress reached out to each of the remaining people the White House has identified as members of the president’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative council to ask whether they planned to follow suit. Corporate spokespeople responded on behalf of several members; while most noted their opposition to white nationalist violence, all indicated that they would stay put on the council anyway.

They included representatives for:

Michael Dell, chairman and CEO of Dell Technologies: “While we wouldn’t comment on any member’s personal decision, there’s no change in Dell engaging with the Trump administration and governments around the world to share our perspective on policy issues that affect our company, customers and employees.”

John Ferriola, chairman, CEO and president of Nucor Corporation: “At Nucor, we condemn the violence that occurred this past weekend in Charlottesville and reject the hate, bigotry, and racism expressed at the demonstration. As North America’s largest steel producer, Nucor has engaged with several administrations to work on policies that help strengthen the U.S. manufacturing sector and provide opportunities for American workers. We believe a strong manufacturing sector is the backbone of a strong economy, and we will continue to serve as a member of the White House Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.”

Marlyn Hewson, chairman, president, and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation: “Thanks for checking in. Marillyn Hewson is a member of the manufacturing council. We don’t have a comment.”

Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company: “I condemn the violence this weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia, and my thoughts and prayers are with those who lost loved ones and with the people of Virginia. In Dow there is no room for hatred, racism, or bigotry. Dow will continue to work to strengthen the social and economic fabric of the communities where it operates – including supporting policies that help create employment opportunities in manufacturing and rebuild the American workforce.”

Denise Morrison, president and CEO of Campbell Soup Company: “The reprehensible scenes of bigotry and hatred on display in Charlottesville over the weekend have no place in our society. Not simply because of the violence, but because the racist ideology at the center of the protests is wrong and must be condemned in no uncertain terms. Campbell has long held the belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to the success of our business and our culture. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion is unwavering, and we will remain active champions for these efforts.We believe it continues to be important for Campbell to have a voice and provide input on matters that will affect our industry, our company and our employees in support of growth. Therefore, Ms. Morrison will remain on the President’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative.”

Mark Sutton, chairman and CEO of International Paper: “International Paper strongly condemns the violence that took place in Charlottesville over the weekend – there is no place for hatred, bigotry and racism in our society. We are a company that fosters an inclusive workforce where all employees are valued and treated with dignity and respect.  Through our participation on the Manufacturing Jobs Council, we will work to strengthen the social and economic fabric of communities across the country by creating employment opportunities in manufacturing.”

Representatives for Bill Brown of Harris Corporation, Jeff Fettig of Whirlpool Corporation, Jim Kamsickas of Dana Inc., Rich Kyle of The Timken Company, and Wendell Weeks of Corning did not immediately respond to inquiries.

And late on Wednesday afternoon, Dow CEO Andrew Liveris provided some context to the apparent rationale behind disbanding the council.

“Every member of the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative condemns racism and bigotry, and there cannot be moral ambiguity around the driving forces of the events in Charlottesville,” Liveris said in a statement to ThinkProgress. “However, in discussions I had with the White House earlier today, I indicated that in the current environment it was no longer possible to conduct productive discussions under the auspices of the Initiative. And so, as proud as I am of the efforts we were taking on behalf of the American worker, disbanding the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative was the right decision.”

Telsa’s Elon Musk left the council in June, after Trump’s announcement that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreements. Ford Motor Company’s Mark Fields, Arconic’s Klaus Kleinfeld, US Steel’s Mario Longhi, and Caterpillar’s Doug Oberhelman — who were also initially named members of the council — are no longer CEOs of those companies.

The volunteer council ostensibly was established  to advise the White House on how promote growth in manufacturing jobs.The Trump administration has said it would prioritize a massive draw-down in regulatory consumer protection, corporate tax rates, and cutting trade deficits.

This story has been updated to include the resignations of several additional members of the council and the president’s decision to disband it.